The Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, and the Minister for Cooperation and Humanitarian Action, Romain Schneider, took part, in the presence of Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, in the closing ceremony of the European Year of Development 2015 (EYD) which took place in the capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg on 9 December, on the sidelines of the informal meeting of Ministers for Development Cooperation.
The ceremony also brought together the European Commissioner heading International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, the Chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Development (DEVE), Linda McAvan, and Marius Wanders, European Year of Development 2015 ambassador from the Civil Society Alliance. It was an opportunity to take stock and celebrate the achievements of the European Year of Development 2015 at EU level and in particular at Member States level, and highlighting the involvement of the many EU citizens throughout the year.
The lessons from the EYD and the need for continued awareness on the subject were also highlighted, and the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council within this context signed a joint inter-institutional declaration in which they recognised the legacy of this year.
We must invest in the future of young people and "create opportunities for the future"
In his introductory speech, Xavier Bettel congratulated the EYD for having succeeded in bringing together a number of players from diverse backgrounds around a single objective, namely "stepping-up our involvement in development, keeping people informed and encouraging others to also get involved". "Development cooperation and humanitarian aid are acts of solidarity, of taking responsibility and are in line with our economic, political and security interests", said the Prime Minister who stressed that everyone - institutions, Member States and citizens - should contribute in their own way.
On this topic, Xavier Bettel noted that in the current, more difficult budgetary period, some had called for a reduction in credit grants for development cooperation, saying that fortunately his government hadn't chosen to do that.
Stating that 2015 had been rich in international events – the International Conference on Development Finance in Addis Ababa, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in New York and the Climate Conference 2015 in Paris (COP 21) – which will decide the new framework for development and sustainable development to 2030, the Prime Minister considered it important for "our children's future, their world and dignity".
A particular case in point is Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 25 September 2015, whose universality means "not only that each State should commit themselves to sustainable development objectives, but also that every individual counts and that no one can be left out", continued Xavier Bettel.
The Prime Minister reminded those present that for the EU, 2015 will have also been a difficult year with internal challenges, in particular "a migratory phenomenon on a new scale". It should not be forgotten however that amongst the 60 million refugees and displaced, the majority are accommodated in developing countries, he added, noting that "our commitment in the medium and long terms in development cooperation and humanitarian aid should be stepped up". According to him, we must therefore invest in the future of young people in sub-Saharan Africa or in the horn of Africa and "create opportunities for the future".
Furthermore, Xavier Bettel believed that the EU's commitment should also be bolstered given the crises in Syria, Afghanistan and in Eastern Ukraine in particular, and that the Luxembourg Presidency has tried "to best meet current challenges" which "require multiple and coherent solutions from our different instruments". In his view, the current security crisis also requires a commitment to be stepped up, because "the future prospects for young people and an education can be part of the eventual answer".
This year "our sense of responsibility has been heightened in the matter", Xavier Bettel also added, before concluding: "It's up to us to make sure that this legacy is carried on by the next Presidencies beyond 31 December 2015".
EYD showed how development cooperation can help in the field
The European Commissioner Neven Mimica in turn believes that 2015 has been a "crucial" year for development as the States have agreed on an "ambitious" Agenda 2030 and on the means of achieving it. "The EU has played a key role" regarding this, he said.
The Commissioner also returned to the crises and challenges that have marked 2015, namely the Ebola epidemic, the refugees and migrant crisis, and the growing threats to security, challenges "that remind us how important it is to have robust health systems, to give people an outlook and avoid any form of radicalisation", he said.
According to the Commissioner, EYD has enabled the practical effects on the lives of people to be shown and has enabled European citizens to be involved in a discussion on what development aid means. "One of the most striking aspects has been the way in which people in partner countries have been able to show how our development cooperation has improved their lives", Neven Mimica pointed out.
In terms of the future, the Commissioner called for building on the networks established during EYD, in particular with young people, and ensuring that its legacy is preserved.
The key role of civil society in raising awareness on development
During her speech, MEP Linda McAvan thanked Luxembourg for having shown "great leadership" in being one of the very few countries to meet, and even go beyond, the goal of 0.7% of GDP earmarked for public development aid, and for having led the EU through several major conferences on development policy, namely Addis Ababa and New York.
"The Presidency has left a firm legacy on which to build upon", she said, noting that the real litmus test for the success of the EYD would be in the way the EU and its Member States implement the objectives of Agenda 2030. Whilst it will be difficult to achieve all the goals, Linda McAvan said she hopes that the EU will show its leadership on the issue.
The President of the DEVE Committee also welcomed the work of civil society and NGOs, often small groups, working alone and in a benevolent way, without which the public would not know the importance of the policy of development. She noted in this regard that the more people who get to know the goals of Agenda 2030, the more the politicians should be aware of them.
In terms of challenges, Linda McAvan also pointed out that if the refugee crises had undermined European solidarity, the slogan of Agenda 2030, namely not leaving anyone out, also applies to refugees and that the EU must do more and do it better.
How long will we continue to accept certain realities?
Marius Wanders, EYD 2015 ambassador from the Civil Society Alliance, then told the story of three young people growing up in 2015, a story called "Tablets, T-shirts and Teenagers" and based on the slogan of EYD, our world, our dignity, our future.
Pointing out that our world was full of tablets, tools also useful for education, he pointed out that an image was missing on the screens, that of a 12-year-old youth, who, instead of going to school, is forced to work in the mines in the Congo to produce the metals that make up these very gadgets. Moreover our human dignity demands being properly dressed, and our closets are full of T-shirts that can be bought for less than 2 euros, he explained. But the image that is missing is that of a young 14-year-old girl forced to work 17 hours each day instead of going to school and who cannot even afford what she is producing for us. "How long will we continue to accept these realities of our world and our dignity", asked Marius Wanders.
Believing that "our future lies in the youth of today", he then told the story of Ellen, a committed young Irish girl, who had taken part in the Development Days in Brussels in June 2015. Still shy at the time, she recently spearheaded a demonstration calling for an ambitious agreement in Paris, refusing to be part of a new generation that would neglect our planet. "I think that Ellen and thousands of young committed people like her are the leading, shining lights of hope for our future".
Marius Wanders also believed that public discussion on development should continue beyond 2015. But it should focus not so much on "what we give", but more about "how we live", in particular "the way in which we should learn to share the planet's limited resources fairly with over 7 billion citizens in the world in 2030", he concluded.